The Tragic Path of James Baldwin
James Baldwin, novelist, essayist, poet, was born August 2, 1924 and
died November 30, 1987. From child evangelist in a store-front church
in Harlem, to the front of TIME magazine as a dominant prophetic voice
of the sixties, to a disillusioned anti-American living and dying in
France, Baldwin’s life was another witness to the power of Christian
roots and the tragedy that comes when the root is severed.
In 1963, when I was a junior in high school, Baldwin published his most powerful book, The Fire Next Time. Unlike his previous Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name, his hope for racial healing in America had almost disappeared when The Fire was published.
Its title is taken from a slave-song warning us that God promised Noah: No flood, not no fire.
He saw the fires in the American cities in the sixties as the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Rooted still in the prophetic structures of the Old Testament, in 1972 he wrote an essay titled “No Name in the Street,” based on Job 18:17,
His bitterness and pessimism was overflowing:
How many in our day—white and black and Asian and Hispanic—are still trying to sound a prophetic note with the faint echoes of biblical language, when the Story and the Substance have long ago been abandoned?
May God grant the rising generation to see that the glory of biblical justice will disillusion every prophet who abandons the joy of biblical Gospel.
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